The Breadcrumbs Widget will appear here on the live site.
Jerry Douglas’ Ever-Constant Continuum Leaves No Time to Settle Down
(by Lee Zimmerman)
Dobro and lap steel player, producer, composer and band leader, Jerry Douglas could be considered one omnipresent individual. His wealth of awards and accolades testify to that proposition. He’s been nominated for no less than thirty-two Grammy Awards — winning 14 of them — in addition to being a ten-time recipient of the International Bluegrass Music Association Dobro Player of the Year Award, a National Heritage Fellowship given to him from the National Endowment for the Arts, status as an Artist-in-Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, honors from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for 25 consecutive years of performance at the festival, receipt of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Bluegrass Star Award he received from the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation of Dallas, Texas.
Those substantial honors aside, Jerry Douglas continues to push his parameters. He’s the organizer of the Trans Atlantic Sessions in Scotland, a festival favorite (he was the individual in charge of gathering the talent at the Earl Scruggs Festival this year and last), and a consistent road warrior at the helm of two bands, The Jerry Douglas Band and the Grammy Award-winning retro outfit, The Earls of Leicester.
In addition, he’s overseen any number of albums by others, including those by Alison Krauss, the Del McCoury Band, Maura O’Connell, Jesse Winchester, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and Gary Morris, to name but a few. And that even doesn’t include all the artists he’s collaborated with — Eric Clapton, John Hiatt, Keb Mo, Elvis Costello, and Van Morrison, among the many. By his own estimation, he’s appeared on some 2,000 albums, although he suspects that the number is even higher.
Either way, he’s one of the most prolific instrumentalists in recent times.
‘Someone once asked me when I did the record with John Hiatt, Leftover Feelings, if I had ever played with John before, and I said, no, I don't think I have’ Douglas recalls ‘But then they reminded me that I did, on the second Will the Circle Be Unbroken album. We did a song together. It was all happening so fast I couldn’t even remember that John Denver was on it too. So, when somebody said, I played with John Denver, I said, nope, I never played with him. But that was a different situation because there were so many people coming through that studio at the time’.
Still, it had to be no less arduous than putting together the performers for the Earl Scruggs Festival, especially considering the fact that he had so many friends, collaborators and associates to choose from.
‘It took me a little while to boil it down’ he suggests. ‘Maybe just a day or two days. I had to think for a while about how to put it together. But I’ll tell you the truth, I love doing that. I love connecting the dots, connecting people, creating collaborations. I love bands to just band together and not work alone. So, I get to hone that every night. I got Emmylou involved in the Sunday finale. That’s something she loves. She loves being out there. There'll be a lot of people around with her too. It's gonna be a big finale. Hopefully, there'll be more people in the audience than there are on stage’.
Of course, it’s not simply a matter of having participants, but also how they’re able to mesh together onstage. ‘It's spontaneous, but there is some familiarity, because we all have history playing together, even if it’s not all together at the same time’ Jerry Douglas explains. ‘It's just music. It’s all ones and twos and zeros. There's no set time signature. Everything is simple and it all comes together eventually’.
Of course, that’s the essence of what Jerry Douglas does — gather other musicians and then find the proper synergy. That’s one reason why when he’s at a festival, he rarely leaves the stage. So too, he’s always on the hunt for new talent.
‘I've been doing a producing a record by a fella from Baltimore named Chris Jacobs’ Douglas adds. ‘He was more of a Rocker but he said he just wanted to do this record. So, we did this record and we used the Infamous Stringdusters as our band. Then we brought in Lee Ann Womack to sing on one song. Then Billy Strings came in. And Sam Bush played on some of it too. We had such a good time. We had a big party and made us a great record. I just finished mixing it yesterday. The studio is the place where I go when I'm not on the road. I'm usually hovering over a console and mixing over in a studio. I’m still looking forward to landing somewhere for a few days, like at the Earl Scruggs Festival where I can just be there for a bit and play with everybody, besides just being in my role as the host. I love playing with everybody, and I would do it anyway. I've either recorded with these musicians, or I’ve played with them on stage. And those that I haven’t played with, well, I’m looking to doing that now’.
Of course, Douglas knows of what he speaks. He played in the band called The GrooveGrass Boyz in the mid ‘90s before joining Alison Krauss and Union Station, with whom he toured extensively and recorded a number of best-selling albums. He still manages to perform with them from time to time in between stints with his own outfits.
Likewise, Douglas has been around long enough to witness the rise of Americana. However, he says that early on, he had no idea how big it would become.
‘I didn't know’ he insists. ‘I knew that what we were doing was really good. But I measured something as being good in terms of how in tune it was, if everybody finished on the same beat, how good the musical performances were, and how everybody got along. Of course, it also has to do with how it translates, and then finds the right audience. So when I did the two Will the Circle Be Unbroken records, I did see that. I figured, this is something that once they hear, everybody’s gonna like it. The other big breakthrough was tied to a movie, ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.’ That was a nice vehicle as well. But I didn't see it getting to the point where it is right now. It’s blown up. And Billy Strings is a big reason for that’.
It’s clear then to see that he looks at things somewhat philosophically. ‘It's just another it's another phase, another passage of time that occurs like every 25 years or so’ he muses. ‘Every quarter century or so, there's a dial that goes around. It takes different routes. It may start at high noon, and then the hands go around the dial and gets shinier and shinier and shinier. It happened with ‘Urban Cowboy’ and it continued from there’.
As for his own plans, Douglas said that he will soon start work on a new album. ‘The Jerry Douglas Band weighs in a little bit more in the overall balance of things because all the other guys in the Earls have other things they do’ he suggests. “[Singer, guitarist] Shawn Camp’s got a totally separate career and [bassist]Daniel Kimbro is like the king of Knoxville with all the things he does there. He still plays with me at the Earl Scruggs Festival and plays in my namesake band too. We're about to go back in the studio, I think in October, and work on another record. I love doing that. Plus, I’m going out this weekend and playing solo and I love doing that too. It gives me just a chance to just sit down with a smaller group of people and do my thing. Sometimes that’s the only way for things to regenerate. I work pretty hard, and sometimes I kinda feel like I’m trying to keep up with the Energizer Bunny’.
Listen and buy the music of Jerry Doulgas from his website
For more information head over to the Jerry Douglas website
The Blog Tags widget will appear here on the published site.
The Recommended Posts widget will appear here on the published site.